Sources: Whirlpool Fort Smith plant deal dead

by The City Wire staff ( 14 views 

No deal.

That’s the word from sources who say the sale of Whirlpool’s large Fort Smith manufacturing operation to Infinity Asset Solution is off.

Officials with Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp. announced in early September that Concord, Ontario-based Infinity Asset Solutions had purchased the building. Infinity “focuses on the disposition of assets for private and public companies, insolvency and financial institutions, as well as leasing companies.”

Tim Allen, chief operating officer for the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, disputed Whirlpool’s assertion that the building had been sold. He said after Whirlpool’s September announcement that a deal was pending, but not finalized.

In June, Whirlpool closed its refrigeration production plant in Fort Smith. The move resulted in about 1,000 lost jobs when the plant closed. However, Whirlpool, which employed more than 4,500 at the Fort Smith plant in 2006, moved production out of the plant for several years prior to the closing.

Whirlpool has not returned numerous phone calls and e-mails asking about the pending deal with Infinity. In early November, a public relations official with a company handling media requests for Whirlpool promised to send a statement to The City Wire. No statement was received, and the official also has not responded to numerous phone messages. Officials with Infinity have also not responded to requests for a statement.

Allen and state officials, including Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, have said they will have a better chance of returning jobs to the more than 2-million-square-foot plant when Whirlpool no longer owns it. Beebe, who said in an August interview with Talk Business that he “was not happy with Whirlpool,” talked about the effort to bring jobs to the facility.

“Problem is, Whirlpool still owns it and doesn’t want it marketed to a competitor,” Beebe explained.

Allen sent this statement to The City Wire about the potential future of the plant and the chamber’s role in the effort to return jobs to the facility.
“The Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce has been marketing the Whirlpool building since November of 2011. We’ve never stopped pursuing a new owner for the facility. When Whirlpool announced a couple of months ago that the building had been sold, I was really hoping that was the case. However, after visiting with the prospective buyer it became obvious the building was only under contract. I know all parties involved (Whirlpool, Chamber, City and Community) are ready to move forward with a ‘new owner’ but … it’s been my experience, that a deal is never done until it’s done. That’s why I was trying to keep the expectation of the community grounded until we had a signed purchase agreement.

“Whirlpool left this community two very important assets, a marketable building and large group of talented workers that are second to none. One of the top priorities of this Chamber is to continue to market the building to find a new owner but the top priority is to find jobs for the people who worked in that building. Over the last 11 months, company after company, have told me that they have hired many ‘Whirlpool’ employees and they’re thrilled to have them. The job fair that was held in July is a good example of the Chamber’s effort to bridge the gap between the Whirlpool employees and the companies in Fort Smith.”